LONDON: Fresh talks between Northern Ireland’s biggest political parties will start next week in a bid to restore a power-sharing government, British and Irish governments said in a joint statement Thursday.
The announcement came at a joint press conference by Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and the U.K.’s newly appointed Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley in Belfast.
“Since my appointment as Secretary of State I have had a number of discussions on the way forward to restore the Northern Ireland Executive and other political institutions under the Belfast Agreement,” Bradley said.
Bradley, who was appointed as the new Northern Ireland secretary last week after James Brokenshire resigned due to health reasons, said the fresh talks between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein will start on Wednesday, Jan. 24.
Bradley said “time is short and one last opportunity to reach agreement remains,” but she did not give a deadline for a deal at the end of the talks between the parties.
“Initially, these talks will focus on gaining clarity of understanding on the progress that was made over the last seven months on a range of issues, including formation of the Executive and what are known as legacy issues,” she said.
The previous administration in the U.K. region had collapsed with the resignation of its Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness over a botched energy saving deal called RHI in January 2017. McGuinness, a key Sinn Fein figure, died shortly after resignation and was bu-ried at a high-profile funeral.
Coveney said Northern Ireland has been without a functioning devolved government for more than a year, and “this is not a position that can be sustained for much longer.”
“We all have a responsibility over the coming weeks to make every possible effort to secure the effective operation of the devolved power-sharing institutions,” he said.
“Karen and I will spare no effort in seeking a return to devolved power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, which is at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement,” Coveney added.
The DUP lost support in the March 2 election but managed to remain the biggest party, with a single-seat margin in the Assembly over Sinn Fein.
The issues between the two parties — recognition of the Irish language and the legacy of violence from the 1968-1998 Troubles — further soured relations between the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein.